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maieutic

Printable Version Pronunciation: mai-yu-tik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Related to the Socratic teaching method, assisting students to become aware of an idea by asking a logical sequence of questions leading to that idea.

Notes: Today's is a word with four vowels in succession—all the English vowels except O. One (E) functions as the consonant Y. All we need to remember is that the syllable that sounds like "may" is spelled MAI, and the consonantal Y is spelled E. Got it? The useless suffix -al may be optionally added (maieutical), but you must write it in the adverb, maieutically. The noun is maieutics.

In Play: Plato, who taught in the Grove of Academus (or simply the Academeia) in Athens, argued that only concepts are real, since they do not change over time as do the objects they represent. Nothing exists until the idea of it exists, hence some supreme power must have conceived of the universe before it came into existence. Real objects have corresponding concepts in the mind, which must be delivered to the student by the teacher, a mental midwife.

Word History: Today's adjective is based on Greek maieutikos "obstetric", from maieuesthai "to serve as midwife", from maia "midwife, nurse". The analogy is between the teacher, delivering ideas from the subconscious, and the midwife delivering a baby. Maia comes from the same root that led to English mother, ma- "mother" + ter, a kinship suffix, hence Latin mater "mother" and Greek meter "mother". The same suffix can be seen in Latin pater "father", as in paternoster "the Lord's Prayer", which begins "our Father". Since Proto-Indo-European [t] became [th] in the Germanic languages, the same combination turned up in English as mother and father. Finally, PIE ma- was duplicated to produce mamma "breast", which we see in mammal and mammary. (We thank Bob Wise for delivering the concept of today's Good Word to alphaDictionary.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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